VATICAN CITY — A German priest and psychologist recently appointed to the new Vatican commission for the protection of minors has stated that the initiative demonstrates Pope Francis’ concern regarding the immediacy of the issue.
“I believe that people realize that this is an issue that Pope Francis has put on his agenda and with priority,” Jesuit Father Hans Zollner said in a March 25 interview.
Father Zollner is a professor at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome and was recently named one of the initial eight members of the new Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors.
Following the December announcement of the commission by the eight cardinals selected by Pope Francis to assist him in matters of Church governance and reform, the Holy Father revealed the names of eight persons who will serve as the committee’s first members last week.
The members of the commission are Dr. Catherine Bonnet of France; Marie Collins of Ireland; Baroness Sheila Hollins of the U.K.; Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston; professor Claudio Papale of Italy; former Prime Minister Hanna Suchocak of Poland and Jesuit Father Humberto Miguel Yanez of Argentina.
According to Father Zollner, “the commission is … an initial group of eight people who are named to find out who else could be members of a larger commission, including other members from other continents and countries.”
Drawing attention to the name of the commission, the psychologist noted that its current eight members “come from eight countries” and “from different fields.”
Headed by Cardinal O’Malley, the commission is composed of four women and four men, the psychologist noted, emphasizing that one of the women members from Ireland is herself a “victim of sexual abuse by a priest.”
Emphasizing the commission’s need for “credibility,” Father Zoller explained that the reaction of people to the commission appointees “has been, for the last few days, very positive around the globe.”
“What people realize is that we can’t talk about sexual abuse committed by priests and other members of the Church without listening to the victims,” he emphasized, adding that “it’s a clear statement that the Church is committed to unwavering interest and policy to listen to victims, to put the victims first.”
Noting that the commission also reveals the Church’s “global approach” to the issue, the psychologist explained that the effort is “not only a commitment to one country or to one continent.
“We have to spread out what Europeans and Northern Americans have learnt in the last decades, in terms of prevention work, in terms of setting up safe environments for children and youth in general. So I think there is a big opportunity here.”
Father Zoller voiced that the commission could also serve as “a communication channel” between the Holy See and “local Churches,” as well as “from local Churches to Rome” and between the local Churches themselves.
“We can see that within the Church much good has been done within the last decades,” he observed, but “with much suffering and much pain on the side of the victims and with much effort on the side of the Church authorities and of people involved.
“But much good has come out of this, in putting up protective environments for children and youth.”
Alan Holdren contributed to this piece.